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Panama invasion is still a shame and a crime.

Three years ago, the United States invaded Panama. In the early morning of Dec. 20, 1989, U.S. warplanes dropped 422 bombs. Then 24,000 American troops invaded Panama City. More than 500 people were killed and thousands seriously wounded.

As an observer of the election in Panama in 1985, I became very familiar with the tragedies of those gentle people. I conversed at length with Panama's distinguished Archbishop Marcos Magraff. As a lawyer and American, I am more and more repulsed at what President Bush did when, without congressional approval, he ordered massive military action against Panama.

The Organization of American States condemned the invasion by a vote of 20-1. The U.N. General Assembly did so by a vote of 75-20.

Two weeks after the invasion. Gen. Manuel Noriega "surrendered" to the United States and was removed from the Vatican Embassy to Florida to stand trial. His kidnapping and conviction may eventually be declared illegal and a violation of international law.

It is being compared more and more by legal scholars to Israel's abduction of Adolf Eichmann in Argentina. Israel eventually apologized - after it had executed Eichmann.

There were 14,000 American soldiers already stationed in Panama when America invaded. These were quite capable of defending themselves and other Americans, as well as the canal.

Noriega was a bully and may have been involved in drug deals. But can an American president, without ever complying with the War Powers Resolution, order 40,000 soldiers to invade a neutral country and inflict immense damage on its people?

The United Nation's charter requires nations to "refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state." The OAS charter, which both the United States and Panama signed, stipulates "the territory of a state is inviolable; it may not be the object, even temporarily, of military occupation or of other measures of force taken by another state, directly or indirectly, on any grounds whatsoever."

The total loss to Panama of "Operation Just Cause" has been estimated at $2 billion. American troops, furthermore, failed to prevent looting in Panama City, the cost of which came to an estimated $500 million.

It is not clear that there is less drug traffic in Panama today than three years ago. There is probably as much political instability and social unrest in Panama now as before the invasion.

The sadness I feel for the people of Panama is acute. As a congressman, I worked and voted to implement the treaties that the Carter administration successfully urged the Senate to ratify. As an observer at the presidential election in 1985, I made friends with many individuals and families on both sides of the election. Shortly after the invasion, I received a moving letter from a prominent attorney I had met in Panama City.

His 24-year-old daughter, Teresa, was killed by American soldiers firing in the streets of Panama City. She died Dec. 28, 1989. I will be offering Mass for Teresa and for the 2.4 million people of Panama on the Feast of the Holy Innocents on Dec. 28.
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Title Annotation:December 1989
Author:Drinan, Robert F.
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Column
Date:Dec 18, 1992
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